The Association for Canadian and Quebec Literatures (ACQL) is pleased to announce that the winner of the 2021 Gabrielle Roy Prize (English section), which each year honours the best work of scholarship on literature produced in Canada written in English, is Finding Nothing: The Vangardes, 1959-1975, by Gregory Betts. The winner was chosen by a jury composed of Jody Mason (Carleton University), Jenny Kerber (Wilfrid Laurier University), and Kait Pinder (Acadia University). The prize was awarded at a virtual reception held by the Association for Canadian and Quebec literatures on the evening of May 27.
Critically and theoretically innovative, Gregory Betts’s Finding Nothing makes a significant contribution to the field of late-twentieth-century poetry in Canada. Betts’s study of the avant-garde in Vancouver in the 1960s and early 1970s “[f]ind[s] something where nothing had been presumed.” Finding Nothing defamiliarizes and broadens a history that has often focused on Tish and the Vancouver Poetry Conference. In so doing, Betts accounts for “productive tensions” between, for instance, Indigenous-authored petroglyphs and concrete poetry, unsettling the “habitual narrativization of concrete and visual poetry” as originating with Mallarmé and Apollinaire. Drawing on the methods of “microhistory” and the concept of geomodernism, Betts situates the Vancouver avant-garde in a network of global, local, and national movements and histories, reaching across time, borders, and media to illustrate the complexity, energy, and materiality of aesthetic experiment occurring in one place and time. This book is to be commended not only for its meticulous research, but also for its embrace of the creative and interdisciplinary character of the art it studies. On every page Betts balances a rich archive of primary sources and critical histories with his own energetic and engaging prose, creating a work of scholarly collage that, like the art he examines, provokes and illuminates through “a network of evocations, associations, [and] polyvocalisms.” Filled with visual evidence of a vibrant cultural movement, this is a crucial source for those with an interest in late twentieth-century poetry and visual art, the history of small press activity, and the cultural histories of Vancouver.